49ers Mailbag: Is roster better than a year ago?

49ers Mailbag: Is roster better than a year ago?

It is 10 days before the NFL Draft, and 49ers general John Lynch remains “open for business” when it comes to discussions to trade the No. 2 overall pick.

A trade down appears to be the 49ers’ best move, especially in a draft with no obvious No. 2 overall choice. But in order for the 49ers to trade down, there must be another team that falls in love with a prospect and becomes eager to trade up.

Let’s go to the 49ers Mailbag to field some of the most-pressing questions as the 49ers open the second week of their offseason program:

Do you think the 49ers are already better overall than this time last year? (Taylor Savinon)
The 49ers’ roster is slightly improved in some areas, but weaker in other areas. Overall, the team is probably better, but not enough to catapult the 49ers into playoff contention.

The most-noticeable difference is Brian Hoyer takes over at quarterback for Colin Kaepernick. Hoyer is a better fit for Kyle Shanahan’s system, while Kaepernick would probably be more productive in Chip Kelly’s system.

The biggest improvement is likely going to Shanahan’s proven NFL scheme from Kelly’s offense, which is better suited for the college ranks.

Wide receivers Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin replace Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton. That’s an upgrade. The addition of fullback Kyle Juszczyk gives the 49ers a lot more flexibility in both the run game and passing attack.

The offensive line should benefit from the addition of Pro Bowl center Jeremy Zuttah, which allows that unit the flexibility to move some pieces around to get the best-possible starting five.

Defensively, the team’s front seven no longer includes Michael Wilhoite, Nick Bellore, Gerald Hodges and Glenn Dorsey. The team added Malcolm Smith, Dekoda Watson and Earl Mitchell. More help is needed there.

Projected starting cornerback Tramaine Brock was released after his arrest following an alleged domestic incident. Antoine Bethea was released, and the 49ers will give Jimmie Ward a look at free safety before deciding whether his best fit is there or cornerback.

Cornerback Will Redmond has a chance to win a job this season after missing his entire season with the ACL injury that lowered his draft stock to the third round, where then-GM Trent Baalke scooped him up.

What positions, in order of need/weak positions on the depth chart, do you think the 49ers should target in the 2017 NFL draft? (Zach Benjamin)
The 49ers will draft a quarterback at some point, but that’s not to say that they should select someone at that position with the No. 2 overall pick. (If the 49ers did take a quarterback at No. 2, Mitchell Trubisky would be the most-likely target.)

The team’s top need is a pass-rusher for new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s “Leo” position. Aaron Lynch is penciled in as the starter in that position. But the new 49ers regime is not relying on Lynch. There are enough questions about Lynch that the 49ers are looking to get somebody else into that spot. Then, if Lynch shows the commitment and focus that could turn him into a standout player, it would be “found money” for the 49ers.

Right now, the 49ers’ starting linebackers are NaVorro Bowman, Malcolm Smith and Ahmad Brooks. Depth is needed there. And three of the four starters in the secondary are Jimmie Ward, Rashard Robinson and Eric Reid, with corners Redmond, Dontae Johnson and safety Jaquiski Tartt among those who would compete for the other starting job.

The 49ers' corps of wide receivers remains a spot that could use a young, dynamic presence.

GM John Lynch made a comment about the traditional draft trade chart and how Paraag had made their own version of it. . . . I'm definitely interested to know more. (Greg Whitlow)
Paraag Marathe was working in management consulting at Bain and Co., when then-49ers executives Bill Walsh and Terry Donahue hired the firm to evaluate the widely used NFL draft-trade chart before the 2001 draft.

“It was a chart that everyone used and nobody knew where it came from, exactly, and nobody knew what it was based off,” Marathe said this offseason on "The 49ers Insider Podcast.”

“So Coach Walsh and Terry hired Bain to work on looking at that chart. It was a three-month project. I came here and did that.”

After the completion of that project, the 49ers hired Marathe to join the organization on a full-time basis.

Marathe is the 49ers’ chief strategy officer and executive vice president of football operations. It is safe to assume there have been adjustments made to the chart due to the slotting system under which draft picks have been paid since the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The old chart, which many teams are still believed to use, can be found here.

Paraag Marathe: My job is to stay in my lane, help the coach and GM

Paraag Marathe: My job is to stay in my lane, help the coach and GM

SANTA CLARA – As team executives Jed York and Paraag Marathe traveled the country during the 49ers’ search to fill their head coach and general manager positions, there was plenty of criticism that followed them at every stop.

York, the CEO, has been held accountable by the local media and on social media, as he publicly welcomed, in recent seasons when the 49ers fell from the NFC Championship game to 8-8, 5-11 and 2-14 under three different head coaches.

A year ago, Marathe officially was replaced as team president and became the 49ers’ chief strategy officer and executive vice president of football operations. His duties with the football team have not changed.

In fact, York and Marathe roles with the organization took on a much-greater significance after the decision was made to fire coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke.

The 49ers interviewed six head-coach candidates and 10 individuals who were considered for the general manager position.

Along the way, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels bowed out, likely because his top choice to be his general manager partner, Nick Caserio, opted to remain as the Patriots’ chief of personnel. Then-Kansas City executive Chris Ballard declined an interview and another serious candidate, Green Bay’s Brian Gutekunst, removed his name from consideration to remain with the Packers on a new contract.

After more than a month, the 49ers finalized the hirings of general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, who officially accepted the job the day after the Atlanta Falcons’ crushing defeat in Super Bowl 51.

“Nothing speaks better to the process than the quality of the two men that we hired,” Marathe told CSNBayArea.com. “I can’t tell you, just in the last two weeks even, how inspiring it’s been to be at work, just seeing these guys work together and how they’ve already transformed the building.”

Marathe joined the “49ers Insider Podcast” for a wide-ranging interview that touched on his personal life, as well as his responsibilities during his 16 years with the 49ers. The entire 43-minute podcast can be heard here.

Marathe has remained behind the scenes working for the 49ers mostly on contract and salary-cap matters. There has been mystery about his role while working with head coaches Steve Mariucci, Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula, Kelly and, now, Shanahan.

At one point during the search, Pro Football Talk, citing “thinking inside league circles,” described Marathe as being viewed as an “impediment” to the 49ers' ability to attract top candidates for their openings.

“It’s unfortunate that’s out there, if that’s out there,” Marathe said. “I won't say it’s something that doesn’t bother me at all. Of course, it stings. But I do know, I try to keep my head down and do a good job and support the people who are here. All I try to do is earn their respect and their trust on what I do. I feel like I’ve been able to do that. I think the individuals that you would talk to, if you talked to them, they’d probably tell you the same thing.

“I’m not trying to be anything other than what I am, which is a support to the coach and the GM.”

This offseason, former 49ers coach candidate Adam Gase told CSNBayArea.com one of the reasons he really wanted the head-coaching position in 2015 was because of his relationship with York and Marathe.

Arizona executive Terry McDonough, a finalist for the 49ers’ GM job, went out of his way to compliment Marathe shortly after he learned Lynch was hired.

“When I was done with that first interview, I said, ‘This is a guy I would want to partner with, along with Jed and whoever the new head coach might be,’” McDonough said of Marathe.

A source close to McDaniels reached out to CSNBayArea.com to dispel any notion that McDaniels’ decision to remain with the Patriots was any reflection on those running the 49ers’ search. McDaniels stated he was impressed with York, Marathe and Brian Hampton, the team’s director of football administration and analytics.

The roles of Marathe and the organization’s use of analytics have been a topic of intrigue for years. Marathe said his role is merely to support the individuals on the football side to provide the team with any kind of advantage.

“My job is to keep my head down, stay my lane, do my job and help the head coach and GM as much as I can," he said.

Marathe added, "Coach Harbaugh, as you know, was looking for every advantage. One thing why he has so much success, he’s always looking for every advantage he can get. He used to use that NASCAR example, if you can figure out how to go 1 mph faster.

"So anything that helped him, we would go through. We’d talk after other games in the league about, ‘Hey, that team, they had one minute left. How many plays do you think they could’ve gotten off in that time? I thought six. Well, I thought seven.’ We’d go through it and talk through it. So, yeah, they were receptive, and it was good.”

Marathe said Lynch and Shanahan have already asked for his opinions on the feasibility of some of the upcoming decisions the organization must make during the offseason.

“I come at it from a different perspective, which is from the salary cap and contract side of things and also just having seen a lot over the years, in terms of how deals get made or how trades happen,” Marathe said.

Without specifying a position of inquiry, such as quarterback, Marathe said he has already provided Lynch and Shanahan with reference material for what it has taken to acquire players in past NFL trades.

“Here are all the other examples of when this position was traded for, and what people gave up to trade,” Marathe said. “That would establish the range for us if we are curious about a player at that position. And then we have a discussion from there.”

As the 49ers prepare for free agency, Marathe said the personnel department and coaching staff will rank the players by position. Then, Marathe will come up with comparable players and provide a range of what he anticipates a player will command on the open market. That leads to more discussion about which players are seen as better fits when considering football and finances.

“It’s my job to keep our cap as flexible as possible,” Marathe said. “But from a football standpoint, making decisions on players, that’s those two guys . . . I’m not good at that. That’s what they’re really good at, and that’s who I take my direction from.”

The 49ers have approximately $80 million in salary cap space entering the offseason. But that does not necessarily mean the 49ers will be willing to pay above market value to attract any players.

“I think there are times when you want to be a little bit more aggressive, versus maybe not be as aggressive,” Marathe said.

“The beauty of how the salary cap works, you can roll over the room to future years. There won’t ever be a salary cap dollar that’s unspent. We’ll always spend it. It just may not be this month. It could be next month or it could be next year. We’ll spend ever dollar. It doesn’t change the values. The values are still driven by what the market dictates.”

John Lynch tested 49ers to see if they could keep a secret

John Lynch tested 49ers to see if they could keep a secret

Before the 49ers entrusted John Lynch with the huge responsibility of rebuilding the team’s roster as the general manager, Lynch wanted to see if he could trust the 49ers.

Part of the reason Lynch wanted his interaction with the 49ers to remain secret was a test, he said Wednesday morning on KNBR’s Murph and Mac. He wanted to find out if the organization was capable of keeping sensitive information in-house.

“I made a big deal that this stayed quiet,” Lynch said. “First of all, you know what I was doing? Part of the rumors are things fly out of that building. So I wanted to see could I trust (them), you know? So that was part of my thinking.”

[RELATED: Brent Jones takes jabs at Baalke, issues optimistic message to 49ers fans]

Lynch worked as FOX television analyst on NFL games for the past eight years. When he started kicking around the idea of working with presumptive coach Kyle Shanahan with the 49ers, he wanted to make sure he felt confident with the organization.

“If I was going to engage in these conversation, we can’t beat around the bush,” Lynch said. “We’ve got to get right to: ‘Do I want to work for these people?’ I can tell you what I found, my interaction with Jed York, he’s a guy that all he wants to do is win.

“He’s tired of some strife and some contention in the building. He wants harmony. He wants to give us the resources. He wants to be a support mechanism, but he wants to get out of the way and let us work. And, to me, that’s an awesome deal.”